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Jordan off limits for birders?

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Old Thursday 24th October 2013, 16:01   #1
Brian Stone
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Jordan off limits for birders?

Would you go to a country where you may have to bird without optics?

Just back from a week in Jordan. The main purpose was to get my mother to the main cultural sites, enough of an effort alone with her health and mobility problems. So I always intended the birding to be a sideline. The intention was see what I encountered casually and return on a dedicated trip to clean up on others.

I'd heard optics could attract questions at customs on entry to the country but wasn't prepared for having scope and bins confiscated for the duration of my stay. I had field guides handy and was clearly a tourist travelling with an older lady but no amount of friendly pleading would persuade them to allow me to keep even just the binoculars.

They decided they were 'military equipment' and that was that. The joke is of course that they are allowing through camera equipment all the time. Some of that will have far greater optical reach and be capable of filming as well - as did mine!

I should say that all (and there were at least 10 officials involved in total) were friendly and courteous throughout.

Return of the kit was straightforward at the end of the week, although there was some minor inconvenience as we'd allowed extra time in case it took longer and were not allowed to leave the airport. 4 hours of Amman airport is plenty, especially if half of that has to spent in limbo awaiting check in.

So the question is, did I get unlucky? If you got a different set of customs officials would you get your kit through? If you had only bins would you stand a better chance (I was in two minds about bothering with a scope)? How would you get on with a large DSLR lens? Would you want to take the chance given that all cabin and hold luggage is scanned on arrival?

Chatting to some officials on arrival I learned that 2 others had come in with scopes that day. It wasn't made clear if they were allowed to take them into the country in the end or not. They mentioned that you should get permission in advance but not how you might go about that.

In the end I managed surprisingly well for wildlife with only my bridge camera (Canon Powershot SX50 HS), which thankfully wasn't even looked at despite being considerably more of threat to security. I'll post a trip report in time.
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Old Thursday 24th October 2013, 16:16   #2
James Lowther
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i managed fine getting scope and bins through in 2008... but clearly it's a bit of a risk, not ideal way to encourage tourism

:-(

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Old Thursday 24th October 2013, 19:33   #3
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I had no problems in 2011-12 but that is a bit of a worry they wouldn't let you in. It puts me off going back certainly.
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Old Tuesday 14th January 2014, 21:16   #4
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Very bad experience in my opinion, it makes me paranoid about going in Jordan, and I'd love to do it!
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Old Tuesday 14th January 2014, 21:39   #5
Gill Osborne
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I'm short sighted at the best of times so if they took my bins off me (huh, over my dead body!!!!! Even hubby doesn't get to hold MY bins!!!) no point in me going as I wouldn't see anything anyway
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Old Tuesday 14th January 2014, 21:52   #6
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Back in about 1995 (ish?) a group of us (9 uni students) had our optics looked after whilst we were birding for a week or so in Tunisia. No problem getting them back after. Probably largely because they were obvious at the airport - one guy had his packed in his hold luggage and he didn't tell them so we had some optics at least.
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Old Wednesday 15th January 2014, 17:45   #7
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Worrying. I am planning a visit there in March, so this might scupper everything. I would welcome any other recent info on this.

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Old Wednesday 15th January 2014, 18:29   #8
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Worrying. I am planning a visit there in March, so this might scupper everything. I would welcome any other recent info on this.

Tom
A scope is not really needed in Jordan (I didn't take one), so I would certainly leave that behind as it immediately grabs attention. Perhaps take a small second pair of compacts that might slip by if the main pair gets confiscated.

Overall though, I'd be very wary of planning a trip to Jordan if my optics could get taken.
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Old Wednesday 15th January 2014, 19:05   #9
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I had heard of this problem before with Tunisia, but not Jordan. I ended up backing out of a planned trip to Tunisia a few years ago because I couldn't get a straight answer on whether bins, scopes, DSLRs with telephoto lenses, laptops etc were alllowed in. I tried the Tunisian Tourism Authority offices in London and Tunis, and the British Consulate in Tunis as well. The consulate seems to think that getting your stuff confiscated couldn't possibly happen, but couldn't advise on a surefire means of ensuring things would be OK. The Tunisian tourism authorities in London told me everything would be fine on the phone but when I asked for that in writing refused. Their Tunis-based counterparts told me that I would need to hire an official guide for my trip in order to be able to bring optics in ... but then I guess tourism authorities do exist to maximise the amount of money tourism brings in to their country, so they were only doing their job...

Tom, you could try the equivalent organisations in respect of Jordan. You never know, you might have better luck.
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Old Thursday 16th January 2014, 09:07   #10
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I would thoroughly agree with Jos. I really didn't need the scope at all and it was the scope that drew the main focus of attention on entry. I suspect if I hadn't had it I might have got in with the bins but I did try very hard to keep those and they weren't having it. I knew the scope was going to be of minimal value so was happy to give that up but no compromise was possible.

Tom, try ringing the Jordan Tourism Board (0207 223 1878) and letting them know the potential impact this could have on tourism. You don't need to say you've already booked but that you'd like written assurance beforehand or something. I'll be talking to them in a similar vein at some point anyway as I would like to go back to the country for a dedicated birding trip at some point.
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Old Thursday 16th January 2014, 13:01   #11
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An email to the Jordanian Embassy in London before hand seeking permission for scope and bins might work.If no permission is granted it may give the reasons why,and thus a help to everyone....Eddy
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Old Thursday 16th January 2014, 18:44   #12
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Tom, try ringing the Jordan Tourism Board (0207 223 1878) and letting them know the potential impact this could have on tourism.
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An email to the Jordanian Embassy in London before hand seeking permission for scope and bins might work.If no permission is granted it may give the reasons why,and thus a help to everyone....Eddy
It might not have any impact on the ground however with the military personnel on the ground. I was detained by the military (on Christmas Day!) for visiting the Aqaba Sewage Works (immediately adjacent to the Israeli border) - despite the area full of marked nature trails and even notice boards in English telling about the birdlife present and nice signs to the car park, the military (again very politely) did not accept the public were allowed to visit without a permit. I had enquired before my trip and was told a permit was no longer required.
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Old Thursday 16th January 2014, 18:48   #13
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PS they are not the only country in the region to confiscate items. I told this story of this thread to a friend yesterday and they told what happened to them when they entered Israel. Keen mountaineers and in the country purely to hike and climb, they had climbing ropes with them. Israeli officials said they were a security risk and took them away! They had to go to a hardware store and buy rubbishy ropes instead.

Birding with binoculars, climbing without ropes, nutters amongst the officialdom in both cases.
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Old Friday 17th January 2014, 18:16   #14
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A year or two back there was something on here warning that scopes could be confiscated on entry to Jordan and that on leaving again the poster was invited into a room with loads of scopes that they could choose one from !!

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Old Friday 17th January 2014, 18:33   #15
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Perhaps it is simply that the Jordanian airport security officers are part of an elite western pal birding team who, rather than supress birds, simply prevent others from even being able to see them, thus keeping them at the top of the western pal list...?
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Old Sunday 19th January 2014, 20:54   #16
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Jordan troubles

The very bad situation which interests so many north Africa and Middle East counties is obviously a disgrace for people living down there, but also it narrows the choice when the WP birder wants to take a trip. So it's very useful to discuss about this topic.

About Tunisia being a place where they confiscate scopes (or else too?):
I do not agree. I have an Italian friend who every year goes in Tunisia with friends just to birdwatch and take photos, so lot of equipment is carried. Never had any problem... and I was with them in 01 2012.
I also know many other Italian birders who went in Tunisia without troubles. All of the above are self organized trips.

About going Jordan or abroad in general for birding without scope and tripod, again I don't agree at all. If you go for a trekking (hike) is OK to have just the bino, but the scope is a must for birding (and digiscoping of course).

About Jordan contacts, it'd be useful of course to get in touch with local tourism offices, and also nature / bird conservation organization if they exist.
It'd be useful to have in this forum a list of offices which can be contacted... maybe someone can help?
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Old Monday 20th January 2014, 04:23   #17
Jos Stratford
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About going Jordan or abroad in general for birding without scope and tripod, again I don't agree at all. If you go for a trekking (hike) is OK to have just the bino, but the scope is a must for birding .
I would disagree with your disagreement :) With no lakes, estuaries and limited seawatching potential, I would say there are very few occasions when a scope would be useful. Sure in the desert, it might be nice to scope distant stuff or for far away flying raptors, but virtually everything in the desert in Jordan is approachable. For me, a scope is certainly not a must for birding in general, and for many trips abroad, I do not take one. I guess it is just a question of birding preferences.

For my trip at least (a dedicated birding, not hiking trip), I can confidently say if I had carried it with me, I would not have used it more than once or twice, and even then it would not have been critical. I am also fairly sure a scope would have led to less birds at Wadi Rhum for me, as I would have been too lazy to make extensive birding walks up little wadis if I was carrying the scope :)

So, if it might lead to optics confiscation, far better to enjoy a trip without (and I also prefer to bird without where possible, simply to have the pleasure of not lugging it around).


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About Jordan contacts, it'd be useful of course to get in touch with local tourism offices, and also nature / bird conservation organization if they exist
Doesn't always help. I did contact bird conservation group in advance about access to Aqaba water treatment works - they said no permit required anymore. On the ground, military did not agree.
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Old Thursday 14th April 2016, 12:37   #18
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I have just returned from a 2 week birding trip to Jordan so I thought it would be worthwhile giving an update on the optics situation.

At Amman airport my main bag was scanned and they found my Swaro telescope. I was taken to a separate office where they advised that telescopes were not allowed in the country and it would be confiscated and returned to me when I departed. No amount of arguing with them made any difference. They provided me with a hand written form which I would need to produce to get the scope back. I had to go back to the airport the following morning due to issues with my hire car and I took the opportunity to get the British Embassy on the phone and they spoke to the customs officials about my scope but that didnít make any difference either.

I met three other birders in Aqaba who didnít have any issues getting their bins in but one of them did have his travel scope confiscated.

I think the only way you could get a scope in to the country is to travel with an organised tour group who have the necessary paperwork in place. I contacted the Jordan Tourist Board in advance but they were unable to help me.

Access to the Aqaba water treatment works (Aqaba Bird Observatory) was a lot easier that on my last visit in 2009. The centre is now manned daily (except Friday) from 8am Ė 3pm when access is available. I think outside these times the gates are shut so it may be difficult to find somewhere to park anyway. Day tickets can be purchased at the centre. Tickets are also available from the Movenpick Hotel in Aqaba and they also provide a shuttle bus but I think you only get about an hour on site. The water treatment works section is fenced off and I had to wait a short time on the first day for the gate to be opened. On my second day the gate wasnít opened but I found you could walk around the end of the fence to gain access without issue.

For access to the Baptism site on the River Jordan in the past the only way to get in was to go on the organised tour so I previously didnít bother. There is now a Russian Pilgrims Residence on site where you can stay. I choose this option which allows unsupervised and unrestricted time on site. I was able to spend several hours walking along the bank of the River Jordan between the residence and the Baptism site. Dead Sea Sparrows were fairly common with nests visible. I also had 5 Desert Finches with one pair nest building.

On the day of my departure I presented my form at the airport and after waiting for about 10 minutes the official returned with my scope. I was then escorted to check-in to make sure my scope went with me.
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Old Thursday 14th April 2016, 15:16   #19
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Sounds like an extreme reach camera (such as a superzoom) might be an easier option to get in? (even though from a security point of view, I would have allowed the scope and outlawed the camera )

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Old Wednesday 11th May 2016, 18:26   #20
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I had similar experience few days ago.

When arriving at Amman airport, scope in my checked luggage attracted attention. Security people asked about it and my binoculars because they were "double military and civilian use". Camera seemed to be fine. I smiled a lot, showed them bird book, said that I need the scope to watch ibex etc. I was finally waved away. It was friendly but lasted about an hour and a half, after which I had to call to get my rented car back.

Bizarrely, the same happened on departure, just as we were boarding. I was called back, and my luggage plus scope was again questioned. I was taken back to the plane in the last minute. However, the luggage did not make it and arrived at my house evening that day.

It seems that scope in particular, and in checked luggage attracted attention. No problem with tripod and camera.

Other than that, Jordan trip was hassle-free and pleasant. Petra, Wadi Rum and Dead Sea were predictably spectacular. Syrian Serins at Dana were absent but showed immediately and in good numbers in the nearby Barra, with bonus being several singing Long-billed Pipits. Two Sooty Falcons at Rum, Hooded Wheatear at the roadside stop, lots of Sinai Rosefinches etc. No Hume's Owls, mammals, almost no raptors. Verreaux's Eagles are of course long extinct.
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Old Wednesday 22nd June 2016, 09:11   #21
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Few weeks ago, I was just briefly asked whether I intend to take my camera (7D+400mm) out of the country again, they didn't even ask about my binoculars. Took one minute at the most.
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Old Thursday 13th October 2016, 09:40   #22
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Just a quick update to add to this old post in case anyone was considering a Jordan birding trip and might be deterred by some of the experiences mentioned here. I have just returned from a 10 day trip to Jordan (part birding, part archaeology) and had no problems with the authorities with regards to binoculars. Airport security did hand search my (and others) cabin bags containing binoculars on the way out of Amman airport as they had shown up on the x-ray machine but there was no problem or delay and we were allowed through. Bottles of water, unlike UK airports, were allowed through without question which seemed to me a far more sensible security procedure than we are used to in Europe.
The birding in Jordan was excellent but the raptor migration along the Jordan valley and at Aqaba was not as impressive in late Sept as I had hoped but still lots to see. As long as birders take some sensible steps such as not birding across military bases and the like, it is a great place to go.
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Old Sunday 1st September 2019, 10:45   #23
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I had heard of this problem before with Tunisia, but not Jordan. I ended up backing out of a planned trip to Tunisia a few years ago because I couldn't get a straight answer on whether bins, scopes, DSLRs with telephoto lenses, laptops etc were alllowed in. I tried the Tunisian Tourism Authority offices in London and Tunis, and the British Consulate in Tunis as well. The consulate seems to think that getting your stuff confiscated couldn't possibly happen, but couldn't advise on a surefire means of ensuring things would be OK. The Tunisian tourism authorities in London told me everything would be fine on the phone but when I asked for that in writing refused. Their Tunis-based counterparts told me that I would need to hire an official guide for my trip in order to be able to bring optics in ... but then I guess tourism authorities do exist to maximise the amount of money tourism brings in to their country, so they were only doing their job...

Tom, you could try the equivalent organisations in respect of Jordan. You never know, you might have better luck.
anyone know if this is still an issue in Jordan. Have heard it is now in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, so maybe spreading as a problem.
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Old Sunday 1st September 2019, 11:52   #24
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anyone know if this is still an issue in Jordan. Have heard it is now in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, so maybe spreading as a problem.
Wasn't an issue in Morocco for us early this year. Can't speak for the other places.

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Old Tuesday 3rd September 2019, 13:49   #25
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no problem in april 2019

I know that an organized group of Italian birders and photographers, more or less friends of mine, have been in Jordan in April 2019. I know they did not have any trouble, despite of using bino's, scopes and of course various cameras. Important fact is, I think, that they usually were accompanied by local guides. Once, being at the Israeli border, they also had a military authorization and escort.
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